Sunshine Inc.

As recent history shows us, few stories are more important to the every day lives of Americans than those that deal with life-and-death struggles of the business community. For those reporters who have made a career of business news coverage, this guide describes the tip of the iceberg of knowledge. But for those just beginning, or reporters who cover business only occasionally, this guide to business records and proceedings hopefully will serve as a basic “how-to” guide that helps you get started.

Companies are affected and regulated by local, state and federal laws. A city may license and tax a business — for example, by requiring a liquor store to have a liquor license. State laws usually regulate who the store can sell to, the alcohol content of beer and its ownership structure. Federal laws can also come into play — a brewing company may be publicly traded and subject to Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.

“Any company of any significant size has almost an unlimited number of contacts with the government in one form or another,” says Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Casselman, who covers the energy industry. Those contacts will lead to hundreds of government records that are generally accessible to the public.

Weeding through filings and documents from government sources can be tedious, but it also can be productive for a diligent business reporter.

This guide should help you navigate the complex world of business reporting. It contains basic information about how companies are structured and regulated. Throughout the guide, you will find tips from veteran business reporters as well as descriptions of public records that they rely on.

As always, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is standing by to help.

Sunshine Inc.: The Basics of Covering Business Organizations

© 2009 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Written and researched by Hannah Bergman, Jonathan Jones, Lucas Tanglen.

This guide was funded by a grant from the McCormick Foundation.